Christian generosity does not extend to churches

Mon Nov 3, 2008 12:55pm EST
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By Michael Conlon, Religion Writer

CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) - U.S. Christians have a reputation for generosity -- but when it comes to supporting their own churches, it turns out most are stingy.

The extent of their penury is outlined in a new book, "Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money" by Christian Smith and Michael Emerson.

It reveals that 20 percent of U.S. Christians give no money to their church, and that many who do donate fall far short of the 10 percent of income their churches traditionally expect.

Christianity is the dominant U.S. religion, with an estimated 226 million followers in 2005, and 140 million belonging to churches. The U.S. population exceeds 305 million.

"If American Christians could somehow find a way to move to practices of reasonably generous giving, they could generate, over above what they currently give, a total of another $133.4 billion a year to devote to whatever purposes and needs they would choose," according to the book.

"What good in the world U.S. Christians could do with an additional $133.4 billion, year after year, is almost unimaginable, simply astonishing, nearly beyond comprehension," said Smith, of the University of Notre Dame, and Emerson, of Rice University.

A mere $500 million, for instance, would close the funding gap needed to eradicate polio globally by 2010, they estimate, while $10 billion would sponsor 20 million needy children worldwide for food, education and healthcare.

The book cites a number of sources for its figures on giving. One found that 22 percent of all U.S. Christians gave nothing, 71 percent gave less than two percent of their income and nine percent gave 10 percent or more.   Continued...

<p>A parishioner holds her rosary beads as she prays at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Chicago, Illinois April 10, 2008. REUTERS/John Gress</p>